Alexandria Gets a Clearer View of Paratransit
The city of Alexandria, Virginia had a paratransit system that worked well—but they knew it could be better.
April 7, 2021
Alexandria sought analysis and planning services to help better understand and guide improvements to its paratransit service to include in an upcoming RFP focused on bringing on a new operational partner to implement a more modern, efficient, and cost-effective program.
Stae agreed to help Alexandria extract and analyze historical program data, provide insights to support planning, define program needs and ultimately inform vendor evaluation during an upcoming paratransit operator procurement process.
Along with other takeaways on usage and passenger demographics, Stae was able to gain key insights by geocoding address data to reveal travel patterns in the program. Some of the key takeaways included:
The top origins and destinations for the program that could eventually help the City develop a less expensive solution such as a weekly shuttle to and from a shopping center or support for delivery programs to connect residents with groceries and medicine.
An understanding of the demographics of riders which will help the city to plan for the future of the program, particularly as the city's population ages.
Help in looking at trips occurring outside the city and how the program might be able to partner with neighboring jurisdictions with similar programs.
Having Stae go through the data in the current format has helped us figure out what some of the missing information has been. I’ve enjoyed working with them and they’ve been really helpful in identifying key metrics for our program that we wouldn’t have been able to pull out otherwise. And they were able to do it really quickly.
Katye North, Division Chief of Mobility Services at City of Alexandria, Virginia
Stae is a technology company providing data extraction, integration, and analytics tools to cities, counties, and transit agencies through the Stae Platform. The Stae Platform makes it easy to extract data from vendor systems such as transit and mobility planning software, budgeting and ERP software, and other data-generating systems. Once data has been ingested into the Stae Platform, users can then easily create data visualizations and mapping insights to manage public programs efficiently and effectively.
The Project in Detail
The city of Alexandria, Virginia had a paratransit system that worked well—but they knew it could be better. How exactly? They weren’t sure, but knew that there was a lot to learn from hundreds of thousands of trip data records they technically had access to from a vendor, but didn’t know how to take advantage of. They wondered if there wasn’t an opportunity to utilize the latest data and mapping technologies to analyze this data and uncover insights that could help make the paratransit program work better and more efficiently for some of the city’s most vulnerable residents. To that end, as Alexandria DOT began the process of drafting an RFP for engaging a new vendor to operate the paratransit service, they decided they first needed to better understand how their current system was operating and what gaps, opportunities, and information could be uncovered through analysis to inform the procurement and vendor evaluation—and ultimately ensure the best results for residents.
At the time of the analysis, Alexandria’s DOT Paratransit program required 24 hour advanced call-in reservations for rides. The program served a variety of resident populations traveling to and from a variety of locations at various times of day, though Alexandria had not analyzed the data to fully understand exactly who, exactly where, or exactly when. The program was operating as a city-run dispatching service through client calls to City customer service representatives. This ensured accessibility to all residents, as some clients do not own or know how to use a smartphone, or may not have immediately-available internet access. Subsequently, a local taxi company was hired to pick up and drive an individual client to their destination. Drivers received some additional training to work with the client populations served, and ADA accessible vehicles were available and necessary to support some clients. Troves of historical data were available on trip times, pickup and destination locations, and even rider characteristics such as gender and mobility needs (ex. wheelchair rider) , but for the most part, because it remained stuck in the Routematch system, the data was not being actively utilized.
Improving the Paratransit system through city-startup partnerships
Alexandria wanted to use the insights generated by Stae’s analysis to inform an upcoming procurement, which set aggressive deadlines for completing the data integration and analytics work. Stae was able to work within this short timeline, providing a blend of consulting services and an easy-to-use interactive report to the City, with time to spare for questions and feedback that improved the overall results.
Stae helped the city identify some of the ways that Alexandria could rethink their data collection and analysis as they holistically revamp the paratransit program. New data requirements will be included in a forthcoming RFP the city hopes to publish for a new paratransit program operator.
In particular, the City hopes to set itself up for easier and more dynamic analytics in the future by requiring standardized, easily readable data in exportable or API format describing the paratransit program’s daily operations.
Through this program facilitated by CivStart, Alexandria gained useful insights to support improving its paratransit system and informing the development of a future procurement. Stae was able to gain valuable experience through this partnership as well, enhancing their ability to work with challenging spatial data and quickly providing valuable analytics services to the City by leveraging the existing Stae Platform.
Alexandria’s paratransit program was generating rich data about paratransit trips, including start and endpoints, date, time, and client demographics such as age, mobility needs, and gender. However, the data presented analytics challenges, with difficult-to-process location documentation and general data quality issues. Fortunately, Stae was able to process, clean, and aggregate five years of historical program data at the individual trip level, providing the City with previously inaccessible insights into their expansive paratransit program.
Specifically the Alexandria team worked with Stae to set up multiple maps and data visualizations each focused on helping them understand specific metrics within five key areas:
General client demographics (Age, Mobility Type, Gender)
Average number of “active” clients in the system (clients who have used the service at least once in a given month)
Number of clients that average more than 10 trips a month
Number of active clients per year
Trips by Ambulatory Ability of the Rider
Percentage and Number of Trips by Mobility Type
Percentage and Number of Riders by Mobility Type
Peak Trip Start Times for Ambulatory vs Non-Ambulatory Riders
Average Age and Distance Travelled for Ambulatory vs Non-Ambulatory Riders
Trips by Geography
% of trips within Alexandria, 5 miles outside of Alexandria, 5-10 miles outside the City and 10+ miles outside the City
Average trip length for trips inside the City and outside the City
For trips that originate in Alexandria, a % breakdown by zip or census tract
Trips by time
Average trips per weekend and per weekend day
Peak times of day for all trips
Average % of trips outside of 8-5pm
Comparing pre-covid program activity to covid
Average trips per day covid vs. non-covid
This partnership was made possible by generous grants from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the National League of Cities’ City Innovation Ecosystems program.